Table 1

Current National Association of Clinical Biochemistry recommendations for the appropriate use of tumour markers

Tumour markerCancerScreeningDiagnosis/case findingPrognosisDetecting recurrenceMonitoring treatment
α-FetoproteinGerm cell/testicular tumourNoYes*Yes*Yes*Yes*
Hepatocellular carcinomaYesYesYesYesYes
CA125Ovarian cancerUnder review§YesYesYesYes
CA15-3Breast cancerNoNoNoYesYes**
CA19-9Pancreatic cancerNoYesYesYesYes
Carcinoembryonic antigenColorectal cancerNoNoYesYesYes
Prostate-specific antigenProstate cancerNo††YesYesYesYes
  • Adapted from Sturgeon et al.4

  • * In association with human chorionic gonadotrophin and lactate dehydrogenase.

  • Only for individuals in high-risk groups—for example, patients with Hepatitis B and C and cirrhosis.

  • In combination with other diagnostic procedures.

  • § UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening.

  • For the differential diagnosis of pelvic mass in postmenopausal women.

  • ** Carcinoembryonic antigen may also be useful in patients with non-evaluable disease.

  • †† Although the National Association of Clinical Biochemistry does not currently recommend prostate-specific antigen for screening, owing to the informed choice Prostate Caner Risk Management Programme the requests received by GPs were deemed appropriate.7